What are the Paralympic Games?

The Paralympic Games are an international sporting event, in which athletes with different disabilities compete on behalf of their country. The Games are held in conjunction with the Olympic Games and indeed the name Paralympics itself means 'beside' or 'alongside' in Greek.

Who can participate?

A whole range of different sports are played at the Games, with a chance for the participants to win gold, silver or bronze medals in each event. At the Paralympics athletes with amputations, blindness, mobility disabilities and Cerebral Palsy all have the chance to compete. Each disability is placed into one of six main categories, to allow people with related conditions to participate together, which means a greater level of fairness.

These categories are:

  • Amputee
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Wheelchair
  • Visually Impaired
  • Les Autres (literally meaning "The Others") including athletes with MS, congenital deformities and dwarfism.

These categories can also be broken down into smaller groups depending on the sport.


The forerunner of the Paralympic Games was the 1948 International Wheelchair Games or Stoke Mandeville Games, in which disabled British World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries competed. Created by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, the games were made to coincide with the Olympic Games occurring that year.

In 1960 the first Games were held that allowed non-veterans to compete and included 400 athletes from 23 countries. The Games were held in Rome and only athletes in wheelchairs competed at this point.

In the 1976 Games people with different disabilities were allowed to compete and over 1,600 athletes from 40 countries entered the Games. In 1988 the Seoul Summer Paralympics were held in the same host city, using the same stadiums and facilities as the Olympic Games and this has been the precedent to this day.

A person not a disability

As the Games have evolved the level of athletic abilities have reached a higher standard and the contestants competing at the Games today are classed as elite athletes. The Paralympics have always focused on the athletic accomplishments of the competitors rather than their disabilities and highlights the fact that a person is much more than their disability.